Book Review: Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story by Ron Franscell
By John ValeriApril 23, 2019
Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story is Ron Franscell’s deep exploration of a murderous couple and their shocking, grisly crimes.
Ron Franscell is a veteran author of fiction and non-fiction whose acclaimed works include the 2017 Edgar Award finalist A Life in Death (co-written with medical examiner Dr. Vincent Di Maio) and the novel Angel Fire, which was listed by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century West. He was a newspaper journalist for thirty years and won many national awards—the Freedom of Information Award by Associated Press Managing Editors and a Best of the West Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors among them. His newest release, Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story, is a true crime expose.
A native of Casper, Wyoming, Franscell vividly recalls the backdrop of his younger years in a chilling prologue (“Broken Country”) that simply begs the Dateline voiceover treatment:
Wyoming was a place to land without baggage, where one could hide and never be found, a kingdom of dirt where giant hollows in the earth might swallow up a man (or woman) entirely, an ambiguous landscape of infertile dreams and pregnant hopes. The landscape was vast, desolate, and mysterious, festooned with hidey-holes that were forgotten or never known.
It’s here that losers in love Gerald Uden, a former navy man-turned-handyman, and Alice Prunty, a job-hopping single mother, find one another. Theirs is a fateful coupling that will endure nearly 40 years of salaciousness, secrets, and suspicions. At the time of their meeting, Gerald had three ex-wives and two adopted sons; Alice herself was twice divorced, with two children and a string of ex-boyfriends—including one, Ron Holtz, who seemingly vanished into the wildlands of Wyoming. Despite their baggage, the two would achieve some version of happily ever after—a felonious fairytale forged in homicidal instincts and homespun loyalty.
It was on September 12, 1980 that Virginia Uden and her two young boys, Richard and Reagan, bid farewell to their mother/grandmother, Claire Martin, and set out in their Country Squire station wagon to meet Gerald for an afternoon of shooting practice. Regardless of their differences—which had only escalated since Alice’s appearance (and an ongoing feud re: child support)—Virginia still thought Gerald could be a presence in their lives, and not just financially. Gerald, however, had come to the conclusion that their continued association was not only a monetary burden but a distraction from his new marriage; after all, Alice believed that exes belonged firmly in the past, not the present. And Alice was to be appeased at all costs. Consequently, Virginia had no way of knowing that she and the kids were now in his crosshairs.
After directing her to a desolate strip of road and having everybody disembark, Gerald turned a .22 rifle on an unsuspecting Virginia and the kids. Three shots to three heads; it was over in seconds. He then loaded the bodies into the station wagon and drove home, transferring them to his pick-up truck—all while Alice distracted her parents in their neighboring trailer. Then, Gerald allegedly hid the bodies in a nearby mine and returned to the trailer park, where he claimed that Virginia had failed to show. Claire contacted the authorities about the disappearance that evening, and Gerald monitored their initial progress (or lack thereof) under the guise of participating in the search before abandoning any pretense of caring or curiosity. He would later retrieve the bodies and reportedly place them in barrels before dumping them in a watery grave, though the remains have never been found and their final resting place remains a source of speculation.
In the decades that followed, Gerald and Alice remained persons of interest, though evidence remained elusive. Claire became the very conscience of the case, spurring investigative action and spending her own humble savings to keep her family’s disappearance in the public eye. Detectives came and went (their efforts are chronicled throughout the narrative), as did an endless loop of hopes and heartaches as each new lead eventually faltered. Though Claire accepted that Virginia was probably dead, she believed the boys were still alive and would one day resurface—the spark that sustained her until her dying day. And when that day came, in 2013, the truth remained shrouded in mystery. It would be another several months before Gerald would finally confess (some of) his sins, and even then, only in a misguided attempt to exonerate Alice of any complicity in the crime or cover-up. (Ironically, Alice’s own murderous past had finally caught up with her when Ron Holtz’s skeletal remains were unearthed, complete with a bullet hole in the back of his head.)
Franscell gained access not only to Gerald Uden, but to his and Alice’s (largely fragmented) family and friends as well as many of the investigators who never allowed the case to go so cold that it couldn’t be revived. As a result, he offers a personal and procedural history of the case, as well as an accounting of the personalities (and requisite psychologies) involved, many of which are as thoroughly textured as the Wyoming terrain. While the research and rendering appear exhaustive, the narrative momentum seldom deviates from the propulsiveness of a thriller. It’s an impressive feat, and one that solidifies the author’s status among the upper echelon of true crime’s contemporary chroniclers.
It is often said that the truth is stranger than fiction, and Alice & Gerald is proof positive that this adage remains painfully prescient. While the crimes themselves are deeply disturbing (and the unresolved questions infuriating), the book surpasses this sordidness, and ultimately serves as a reminder that justice delayed is not justice denied.